Dizengoff in Lockdown

I’ve had a rough two weeks, with my mom going through surgery to remove tumours during a Covid lockdown and other stuff crumbling at the same time. Starting to get back to my my routine again, which means posting here, working on a review and working on another short story.

This page shows a deserted Dizengoff street, which I haven’t seen since the first lockdown, last spring.

Hoping for better days ahead.

Build a Plant Holder

Sketchbook spread with two wooden X shaped plant holders, a screwdriver and some tiny paint pots. There's a sticker with the Molet logo on the right.

Tel Aviv Municipality has come up with a great way to support local businesses during the lockdown. Once a day at 11:00 they open the option for around 30-40 people to purchase a box from a local business. The box costs 50 NIS, and comes with a zoom session with the store owner, where you learn about their business and make something together. There was a beer box, a sushi box, a stationery box, a magic shop box, a cocktail box, a pickles box, and more. The boxes proved to be more popular than city hall envisioned, so after a few days they limited it to one box per resident. Luckily I managed to get three boxes before the limit took place, and this was the first one. We learned how to make two plant holders out of reclaimed pallet wood from a lovely design studio in Jaffa called Molet. They create kits and give workshops using wood pallets and the results are charming and fun. My dad had a workshop with them before the pandemic and really enjoyed it, and I’ll try and get the people at work to go to a workshop there once we can.

This sketchbook page was created as part of Liz Steel‘s Sketchbook Design course and explores using collage and colour blocks as design elements.

TIMEX x DDC

I tried to get my hands on the Timex X DDC Scout watch designed by Aaron Draplin for three times before I managed to snag one. They are sold out so quickly that if you want one you really need to set an alarm and be quick with your keyboard and mouse. Then our local post office tried to do a vanishing act with my package, but finally, a month after I ordered it, I got my hands on this orange and black beauty. I only use analogue watches, usually Swatch watches (in recent years it was System 51 Swatch mechanical watches), but I’ve never owned such a heavy watch. It took me a day to get used to it, and since then it has been my constant companion. It is a beast of a MACHINE but an eye catching one, and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. I highly recommend getting one, if you have any interest in watches.

This page was created as part of Liz Steel‘s Sketchbook Design course and is all about the white space.

Oranges, Bananas and maison kayser

A sketch of an orange, a banana, a narcissus flowering, Maison Kayser and a Viennoise au Chocolat
Bananas, orange, narcissus and Viennoise – an eclectic page

This page, created for Liz Steel‘s Sketchbook Design course, is about secondary sketches and borders, and has a little hidden colour block in it. The original spread was a little lacklustre and disjointed. The Viennoise in the corner looked particularly sad. Adding a secondary sketch of the Maison Kayser bakery (where I bought it), with a touch of blue and bluish grey to the background really brought it to life.

The bananas and orange got a shadow which serves more as a grey colour block, making their warm colours more prominent. Adding borders in Noodler’s Lexington Grey (to the bananas and orange watercolour) and Noodler’s Black (to the narcissus) was the final touch that pulled this page together.

I’m enjoying the course very much, even though the past two weeks have been personally hectic. I’ve been working on a short story to submit to a competition (got it done in time and accepted), and some bad news regarding the health of a family member have meant less sketching time than I would have liked. Hopefully the coming weeks will be better.

By the way, the local branch of Maison Kayser, in Tel Aviv’s port (I haven’t visited the Rothschild one yet), is excellent. Their vanilla chocolate chip danish, sandwiches, and baguettes are sublime, and it’s a fun place to visit. They had the misfortune of opening after the pandemic started, but they seem to be managing well, so I think we’ll be seeing them around for a good while yet.

Drawn on a Stillman & Birn Beta, with Lamy fountain pens, Noodler’s ink and Schminke watercolours.

comfort pasta

Comfort Pasta Sketchbook Page

I think that there’s nothing better than plain pasta or pasta with a little cheese if you’re not feeling your best: it’s perhaps the ultimate comfort food.
I created this page as part of my Sketchbook Design course with Liz Steel, and this one is all about exploring how to use text as part of my page design. Gave Rohrer & Kilngner Helianthus ink a spin, which is also something that I decided to experiment with. Like many yellow/orange inks it tends to crystallize on the nib and feed, so I’m “sacrificing” a Pelikan Pelikano for the effort. Pelikanos are great beginners pens that don’t get much love in the community probably because they are less ubiqutous than Lamy Safaris and their standard nib offering is a Pelikan medium which is very wide. If you’re an artist I recommend purchasing one (with a converter), as they have less tendency to dry out (with permanent inks) than Lamy Safaris and they indestructible workhorses that have very smooth (and wide) nibs.

Drawing made with Schmincke watercolours on a Stillman & Birn Beta which I’m still on the fence about. It’s better than the Alpha for watercolour washes, but it’s still not great, and it’s not great for pen and ink or fineliners. Also the glue connecting the sections isn’t the best, as it needs forcing apart once you hit a new section, and oftentimes leaves an unseemly tear in the middle. The sketchbooks are good, I just wish that the sections were sewn together and that the paper would lean into being watercolour paper more – so that they would be perfect. However, changes like these would mean a price increase, which would make them unappealing, since a large part of the Stillman & Birn softcover sketchbook appeal is their price. In the end it’s a nice sketchbook that I don’t feel too precious about, which is the main point, and is why I’ll continue using it.

Paper Mate SharpWriter Mechanical Pencil

If you follow any makers on YouTube you probably saw this ugly yet somehow charming little mechanical pencil in action. The Paper Mate SharpWriter is a strange beast, full of surprises. It’s a mechanical pencil with a twist mechanism in the tip instead of a click mechanism under the cap, it actually has a serviceable eraser, and it’s non-refillable. It’s as if Paper Mate saw the “Think Different” ad and said, “yes, but how can we apply that to a mechanical pencil?”

Paper Mate SharpWriter.

First of all, you can buy the Paper Mate SharpWriter in many different widths, as long as they’re all 0.7mm. This has the added value of saving Paper Mate the need to indicate the lead width on the pencil, because there’s only one width to rule them all. I can’t honestly fault them for that. It’s a pencil that’s meant for students and bills itself as having less lead breakage, and so 0.7mm is the way to go.

There are some interesting things going on with the business side of this pencil. First and foremost, that’s where the lead propelling mechanism is, which caught me by surprise. It’s a twist mechanism, and it’s pretty sophisticated as it allows you to easily extend and retract the lead to suit your needs. The second part is the “lead cushioning mechanism” which means that the lead springs up and down as you right, preventing you from breaking it if you exert too much pressure. It works, but I’m not a fan as it makes me feel as if the lead is broken inside and I have to extend it to get rid of the small broken piece and reach the “real” lead left inside. It’s going to take some time for me to get used to it.

Writing and erasing sample.

The eraser is downright phenomenal, as it actually erases things quite well, and doesn’t tear into the page. The lead itself is a solid HB 0.7mm lead that is smooth and on the slightly darker side of HB.

The Paper Mate SharpWriter isn’t a pretty of fancy mechanical pencil, but it’s comfortable to hold, lightweight, and has a playful colour scheme that recalls a woodcase pencil. And like a woodcase pencil, it’s disposable, which is where my only real beef with this pencil lies. Yes, this is a student pencil, and so it’s likely to get lost or somehow broken (it’s far from flimsy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way), and if the pencil won’t be lost, the leads will, and yet… The last thing the world needs is more plastic waste.

So, do I recommend the Paper Mate SharpWriter? No, and not because there’s anything wrong with the pencil, it’s just that there’s very little justification for a disposable mechanical pencil when there are cheap, good and even great refillable options to be had in the market.

But I do understand the makers who have fallen for this ugly duckling.

Uni Pro M9-552 Mechanical Pencil Review

First review of the year! I bought the Uni Pro M9-552 mechanical pencil a while ago in London, I believe. Never having heard of it before, and noting that it was an inexpensive drafting pencil, I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed: the Uni Pro M9-552 has a terrible name, but it’s a very good drafting pencil AND a very good mechanical pencil, which is not the same thing.

Illustration of the Uni Pro M90552 mechanical/drafting pencil.

The Uni Pro has a plastic body, a knurled aluminium grip and an aluminium cap and clip. This makes for a light pencil that is weighed towards the tip, which is what makes this a good mechanical pencil and not just a good drafting pencil. It’s very comfortable to hold and write or draw with, even for long periods of time, because of the weight distribution and the knurling on the grip. The knurling provides excellent grip without cutting into your hands.

Illustration of the Uni Pro M9-522 with the pencil itself.

Like all drafting pencils, it has a long lead sleeve and a lead grade indicator. I like the touch of colour that it provides to this otherwise very utilitarian design. The cap has the lead width, 0.9, engraved into it, and under it is the usual refillable eraser. It will do in a pinch, when you don’t have a block eraser around and have very little to erase.

This isn’t a lead review so I’m not posting a writing sample, but I will say this – if you haven’t tried writing or drawing with a 0.9 lead mechanical pencil, I recommend giving it a go. You get most of the line variation and expressiveness of a woodcase pencil, but without having to stop and sharpen it all the time.

Closeup of the knurling.

The Uni Pro M9-552 is a good choice of drafting pencil, with its light weight making it a good choice for people with small hands or those that are looking for a drafting pencil that can also serve as a mechanical pencil (i.e. a daily writer). The Uni Pro 552 series also includes a 0.5 pencil (with a red lead grade indicator), 0.7 pencil (blue indicator), 0.3 pencil (yellow indicator), and even a 0.4 pencil (orange indicator, at a rare lead width).

Sketchbook Design Goals

My sketchbook design course goals, and a drawing of the Phoenix community garden in London.

The first week of Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design course is underway, and so far I’m having a blast and drawing much more than I used to. I’m also learning a lot not just from Liz, but also from the other participants in the course. One of exercises this week was to create a page with our Sketchbook Design course goals, and here is mine. I also drew the Phoenix Community Garden in London’s West End to accompany my goals. Hopefully I’ll be able to return to it later this year.

Tools used: Stillman & Birn A5 Beta, Lamy Safari pens with J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche and Noodler’s Black, Schmincke watercolours.

Sketchbook Design: My Tools

I’ve enrolled into Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design online course, as I like the way Liz designs her notebook pages and I’ve taken an Urban Sketchers workshop (in Porto, 2018) which was excellent. Liz sent the first intro videos to the course to her newsletter subscribers, and so I decided to pick a sketchbook for the course (which starts on January 4th) and draw the tools that I plan on using in it.

The sketchbook that I chose is a Stillman and Birn Beta softcover A5 sketchbook, because it has watercolour friendly paper and I wanted to try that paper out. Here’s a sketch of my tools done with a Lamy Safari Petrol fine nib fountain pen and a Lamy Safari Dark Lilac medium nib fountain pen, both with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black.

I got carried away with the lines when drawing my palette, so I decided to roll with it and just use it to write down the paint details.

Here it is after applying watercolour:

It’s not perfect, but I like the way this page looks.

Here’s my Winsor & Newton Travel Watercolour box, filled with Schminke watercolours (some of them on their second or third refill from the tube). I love this paint box so much that I used my previous one until it fell to pieces. This is my new one, and it’s holding up well so far.

The fountain pens that I’ll be using: Lamy Safari Petrol F nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Dark Lilac M nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Charcoal EF nib with J. Herbin Bleu Pevench, Sailor Fude MF pen with Noodler’s Lexington Grey (Bulletproof ink).

My non fountain pens are my beloved Saedtler pigment liners in 0.3 and 0.7 and a Uni-ball Signo broad white.

The pencil I will use is a vintage Eagle Turquoise “Chemi Sealed” H drawing pencil. I just love everything about these pencils, and I really wish that they were still in production.

My brushes: a Raphael round travel brush, I’m not sure what size. There’s a good chance that I’ll replace it with a better round brush as the course progresses, as I’m not enamoured with it. The black brush in the middle is a Winsor & Newton Series 7 no 2 Kolinsky sable brush. The white and silver brush below is a Rosemary & Co R12 Sable/Nylon Dagger brush, and it’s a brush that I haven’t 100% mastered but that I’m growing to like with use.

That’s it for my tools at the moment. I’ll update this blog with my progress as the course takes place, and I’ll be sure to note if my tools change throughout.

Four Watercolour Tips

Four quick tips for those using watercolours:

  • Write the colour number on the pan with a Sharpie (or a similar) pen. Inevitably the sticker or stamp with the watercolour’s number will fade away or peel off and you’ll be left trying to guess what it was when it’s time to replace it. If you mix watercolours by different makers then also give an indication of the maker on the pan.
  • Replace unused paint with something else that you may actually use. This is important particularly if you’re working with a small portable palette. If you see a pan with paint that hasn’t got a dent in it, consider replacing it with something else that you may use. Ask yourself why it’s just sitting there (it’s too opaque and hard to mix? You don’t need it much because of the subjects you draw?), and replace it with something that will better fit your needs. Palettes evolve with time, and yours should evolve to better fit your needs and drawing goals.
  • Buy tubes of paint to refill well used paint pans. When your starting out and still building up your palette and skills, work with pre-filled half-pans (the small square pans of paint). After a while you’ll start to see a few colours that you use more heavily than others, and for those paints you can either go for full pans, or buy paint tubes and refill them, giving them some time to set. It’s much more economical, with the caveat that you need to look up the paint maker that you’re using to see if there’s any difference between the paint in the pans and the paint in tubes. I use Schminke Horadam and there is none, so I’ve been refilling my pans for a few years now.
  • Check transparency and staining before selecting a paint. This is particularly important if you plan on mixing paint or lifting paint (using a brush to remove paint from the paper while it’s still wet or flooding the paper to remove paint). Paint that is opaque will not mix well with other paints (you’ll get a muddy effect), and you need to be aware of it while drawing. Transparent paints may not be as vibrant as their opaque counterparts, but they work very well with others. Staining paints will stain your paper, leaving a shadow of themselves as you try to lift them. These are not bad things in and of themselves, these are just things that you need to be aware about before adding a paint to your palette.